The Vulcan salute is a hand gesture popularized by the 1960s television series Star Trek. It consists of a raised hand with the palm forward and the thumb extended, while the fingers are parted between the middle and ring finger. Leonard Nimoy from the series based the gesture on the Jewish Priestly Blessing.
The Vulcan salute was devised by Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed the half-Vulcan character Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek television series. A 1968 New York Times interview described the salute or greeting gesture as a "double-fingered version of Churchill's victory sign". Nimoy said in that interview that he "decided that the Vulcans were a 'hand-oriented' people".
The salute first appeared in 1967 on the Star Trek second season opening episode, "Amok Time". Among other things, the gesture is known for being difficult for certain people to do properly without practice or the covert pre-positioning of the fingers, and actors on the original show reportedly had to position their fingers off-screen with the other hand before raising their hand into frame. This difficulty may stem from variations in individuals' manual dexterity. Its reputation is parodied in the motion picture Star Trek: First Contact when Zefram Cochrane, upon meeting a Vulcan for the first time in human history, is unable to return the Vulcan salute gesture and instead shakes the Vulcan's hand.
In his autobiography I Am Not Spock, Nimoy wrote that he based it on the Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim with both hands, thumb to thumb in this same position, representing the Hebrew letter Shin (?), which has three upward strokes similar to the position of the thumb and fingers in the salute. The letter Shin here stands for El Shaddai, meaning "Almighty (God)", as well as for Shekinah and Shalom. Nimoy wrote that when he was a child, his grandfather took him to an Orthodox synagogue, where he saw the blessing performed and was impressed by it.
Others often greeted Nimoy with the salute, which became so well-known that in June 2014 it was added to version 7 of the Unicode standard as 🖖 RAISED HAND WITH PART BETWEEN MIDDLE AND RING FINGERS.
The White House referenced the salute in its statement on Leonard Nimoy's death, calling it "the universal sign for 'Live long and prosper'". The following day, NASA astronaut Terry W. Virts posted a photo on his Twitter feed from the International Space Station showing the hand gesture (with the Earth in the background) as the ISS passed over Nimoy's birthplace of Boston, Massachusetts, United States.
Star Trek actor and writer Simon Pegg giving a Vulcan salute in 2016.
The salute was created by Leonard Nimoy for the Star Trek episode "Amok Time", which was the first episode with Vulcans other than Spock. Nimoy wanted something to help develop the Vulcan sociology, proposed that Vulcans have a greeting and suggested this salute as that greeting.
The same hand signal was used by Peter Lorre in The Raven (1963). The wizard Dr. Adolphus Bedlo (Lorre) is battling Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). Bedlo projects the proto-Vulcan Salute at Scarabus while also using his wand. It can be seen clearly around 26 seconds into this short clip from The Raven. There is a video capture image from the movie posted HERE. Peter Lorre, like Nimoy, was Jewish and the same religious upbringing may have influenced his decision to use a powerful symbolic hand gesture in his battle against evil (cf., crucifix against vampires, etc.). Lorre died in 1964, three years before Star Trek popularized the Vulcan Salute.
Peter Lorre's former wife, Celia Lovsky, played T'Pau in the Amok Time episode. T'Pau was the first character to display the Vulcan Salute on camera in any episode. It is possible that Lovsky might have remembered Lorre's use of the "shin" symbol in The Raven and discussed it with Nimoy during production of the Amok Time episode. The possibility was broached in a comment on IMBD.
The accompanying spoken blessing, "live long and prosper" - "dif-tor heh smusma" in the Vulcan language (as spoken in Star Trek: The Motion Picture) - also appeared for the first time in "Amok Time", scripted by Theodore Sturgeon. The less-well-known reply is "peace and long life", though it is sometimes said first, with "live long and prosper" as the reply. The phrase has been seen abbreviated "LLAP".
An ancient Egyptian blessing "ankh wedja seneb", while its verbatim translation is uncertain, uses the three symbols "life", "prosperity" and "health"; it has been translated as "may he live, be prosperous, be healthy." The New International Version of the Bible, Deuteronomy 5:33, includes the phrase "live and prosper" as part of Moses' admonitions to the Hebrew people prior to entering Canaan; other translations include the notion of long life as well.William Shakespeare's 1594 Romeo and Juliet contains the line, "Live and be prosperous: and farewell good fellow", spoken by Romeo to Balthasar, his friend and servant. The benediction "live and prosper" is attributed to the 18th-century organized crime figure Jonathan Wild in his 1725 biography written by "H.D.", possibly a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe.
In that episode, [Sturgeon] also wrote one of the series' standard catchphrases, the Vulcan greeting 'Live long and prosper.'
Romeo: So shalt thou show me friendship. Take thou that: Live, and be prosperous: and farewell, good fellow.
Before the Sessions, Jonathan, tho' retain'd on the other Side of the Cause; visits Mr. Powell, tells him of the dangerous Circumstances he was in, and at the same Time enquires into the Value of his personal Estate; the Thief apprehended his meaning, and made him sensible that forty Pounds should not part them, (for it seems this Fellow never came into Jonathan's Books) whereupon the Bargain was struck, the Money paid down, and Mr. Wild left him with this Blessing, Live and prosper.
Also, he went into good society sometimes, with a dress-coat on, and a white tie, and his hair parted in the middle! But in spite of these blemishes on his otherwise exemplary record as an art student, he was the most delightful companion - the most affectionate, helpful, and sympathetic of friends. May he live long and prosper!
Media related to Vulcan salute at Wikimedia Commons
Leonard Nimoy on the Jewish provenance and cultural impact of the Vulcan salute